The curses of being a rat: Landmine-detection reinforcement

April 17th, 2014

Bit by bit, people work to devise improvements in procedures related to explosions. This study tells of one such effort:

Landmine-detection rats: An evaluation of reinforcement procedures under simulated operational conditions,” Amanda Mahoney, Kate Lalonde, Timothy Edwards, Christophe Cox, Bart Weetjens and Alan Poling [pictured here], Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, epub March 27, 2014. The authors, at APOPO in Santa Clara, California, and Western Michigan University, explain:

Alan_poling“The results of this translational research study suggest that the TNT-contamination procedure is a viable option for arranging reinforcement opportunities for rats engaged in actual landmine-detection activities and the viability of this procedure is currently being evaluated on minefields in Angola and Mozambique.”

Instant beer: The birth of a notion

April 17th, 2014


Along with jetpacks and hose-down-able houses, food in pill form has been perennially one of those futuristic advances that is just around the corner. 65 years before Willy Wonka’s three-course-meal chewing gum, German scientists brought us desiccated beer — according to the Indian Medical Gazette, summarized here in the New York Medical Journal [July 22, 1899 -- p. 143].

No doubt this was technically possible in some form, but it was desired by nobody, not even arctic explorers.

In Germany the beverage has been reduced to a powder by a process of evaporation, and a very small quantity of the powder is needed, with the addition of water and carbonic-acid gas, to make a foaming tankard of ale just as good as if it were freshly drawn from the barrel.insta-stout

Now in 2014, the dream lives on. Insta-Beer, “the world’s first instant beer”, is available exclusively at KegWorks. And who is responsible? A “dedicated team of German scientists”.

Follow Amboceptor on Twitter: @AmboceptorBlog

High-level food for fad-diet theorists

April 17th, 2014

Persons who make their living by creating, naming, and giving advice about fad diets can find food for their professed thoughts about food in this new study:

Lower Obesity Rate during Residence at High Altitude among a Military Population with Frequent Migration: A Quasi Experimental Model for Investigating Spatial Causation,” Jameson D. Voss, David B. Allison, Bryant J. Webber, Jean L. Otto, Leslie L. Clark, PLoS ONE, April 16, 2014DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0093493. The authors explain:

“Whether or not high altitude residence confers benefit in humans… remains unknown.”

The study contains the intellectually inspirational statement:

“Among overweight service members in the U.S. Army and Air Force between January 2006 and December 2012, those stationed at higher altitude duty locations had a lower incidence of obesity.”

BONUS INFO: The co-authors, all of whom now have proper credentials to create new diet books and televised lectures, are dispersed among the following institutions:  1Epidemiology Consult Division, US Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, United States of America, 2Department of Preventive Medicine, Uniformed Services University, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America, 3Department of Biostatistics, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, United States of America, 4Nutrition and Obesity Research Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, United States of America, 5Trainee Health Surveillance, Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Lackland, Texas, United States of America, 6Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States of America, 7Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America, 8General Dynamics Information Technology, Fairfax, Virginia, United States of America.

Wee mathematics in Portland, Oregon

April 16th, 2014

Today’s mathematics exercise: What, approximately, is the percentage of human wee in the water supply, both before and after the wee was added to the reservoir?


PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — …. Portland officials said Wednesday they are flushing away millions of gallons of treated water for the second time in less than three years because someone urinated into a city reservoir.

In June 2011, the city drained a 7.5 million-gallon reservoir at Mount Tabor in southeast Portland. This time, 38 million gallons from a different reservoir at the same location will be discarded after a 19-year-old was videotaped in the act. ”The basic commandment of the Water Bureau is to provide clean, cold and constant water to its customers,” bureau administrator David Shaff said Wednesday….

The urine poses little risk — animals routinely deposit waste without creating a public health crisis — but Shaff said he doesn’t want to serve water that was deliberately tainted.

BONUS CALCULATION: Calculate the percentage of human wee in a standard (any standard) size swimming pool, both before and after one person’s wee was added to the pool.

BONUS CALCULATION: Calculate, approximately, the cost in dollars of administrator Shaff’s precautionary effort.


BONUS: Reports from Oregon Live, and from the Water Bureau.

BONUS: Wee mathematics in Texas (thanks to investigator Tom Gill for bringing this to our attention.)


Winter/Summer Suggestion that Contagious Yawners are Cooling Their Brains

April 16th, 2014

Another attempt to explain the mystery of why people yawn:

A thermal window for yawning in humans: Yawning as a brain cooling mechanism,” Jorg J.M. Massen [pictured here], Kim Dusch, Omar Tonsi Eldakar, Andrew C. Gallup, Physiology & Behavior, epub 2014. (Thanks to @ThatNeilMartin for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at the University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria, Nova Southeastern University, Ft. Lauderdale, USA and SUNY College at Oneonta, USA explain:

jorgmassen“The thermoregulatory theory of yawning posits that yawns function to cool the brain in part due to counter-current heat exchange with the deep inhalation of ambient air. Consequently, yawning should be constrained to an optimal thermal zone or range of temperature, i.e., a thermal window, in which we should expect a lower frequency at extreme temperatures. Previous research shows that yawn frequency diminishes as ambient temperatures rise and approach body temperature, but a lower bound to the thermal window has not been demonstrated. To test this, a total of 120 pedestrians were sampled for susceptibly to self-reported yawn contagion during distinct temperature ranges and seasons (winter: 1.4 °C, n = 60; summer: 19.4 °C, n = 60). As predicted, the proportion of pedestrians reporting yawning was significantly lower during winter than in summer.”

Here’s detail from the study: